Hiss! Snap! Crack! The sound of the whip was quickly followed by a hideous scream as sharp fragments of metal tied to the whip’s leather thongs dug into tender flesh.
“Get up, you lazy dog!” The guard’s cruel voice echoed off the quarry’s rock walls. “You’ll work or you’ll die. Now get up!”
Again and again the whip hissed and cracked, each stroke opening new wounds on the back of the prisoner. Finally tiring of his sport, the guard left his victim torn and bleeding on the ground and went in search of other prisoners to torture.
High above, on a plateau overlooking the stone quarry, a stooped old man turned slowly from the sad scene and shuffled back to his small hut. There was nothing John could do for the injured man. It was just the way things were on Patmos.
This barren island in the Mediterranean Sea was Rome’s ultimate prison for its most hated criminals. To be sentenced to Patmos was to be sentenced to death. Here murderers and thieves labored alongside political and religious prisoners mining stone for Caesar’s building projects.
Life on Patmos was hard and usually very short. If the guard’s whip didn’t kill a person, the hot sun, heavy labor, and poor food led toward such a fate.
Of Jesus’ original 12 disciples, only John remained alive. Often he too had felt the hated whip. When he’d first been sent to this desolate rock for preaching the gospel, the guards had tried to force him to work on the Lord’s Day, the seventh-day Sabbath. His back still held the scars of their cruel attempts to beat him into submission.
But John had held firm and eventually earned their grudging respect. Now they allowed him to retire each Sabbath to his humble hut, where he spent the day in prayer and study.
This Sabbath, like every other Sabbath, John had risen early, eaten a simple breakfast, and gone for a short walk along the shore. On his return, he’d been temporarily distracted by the commotion in the quarry below, but now he settled back into his normal routine.
Sitting under a scraggly old olive tree, he began to pray. By his side lay some old parchment that he used to record his thoughts. Some Sabbaths John would sit here for hours, lost in conversation with his heavenly Father.
This day, as his thoughts lifted heavenward, the cruel sounds of the quarry were drowned out by the sweet melody of a sparrow singing in the branches overhead and the roar of the surf far below. A warm salty breeze off the Mediterranean felt like the very touch of God as it wafted gently through John’s long gray hair. Soon even these pleasant sensations faded away, and John was “in the Spirit,” alone with God.
As often happened at times like these, John’s thoughts drifted back to those incredible years so long ago when he and the other disciples had walked the roads of Palestine with Jesus. John had loved to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His kind voice speak of things too wonderful to imagine, such as God’s grace and a city of gold in heaven. No matter how cruel life had been since, the memory of Jesus’ voice had always sustained him.
“If only I could hear that voice one more time,” John thought aloud. “Just one more time.”
Barely had the words left his lips when John heard a voice behind him.
“John . . .”
The voice echoed like a trumpet in the still air, but John recognized it instantly. Jesus! It couldn’t be. But it was!
Turning quickly, John started to open his arms to hug his beloved Master. But as his eyes focused on the dazzling figure before him, he fell back in fear.
Jesus stood in the midst of seven golden lampstands, His glimmering white robe reaching to His feet and tied with a golden sash. His hair was white as snow and His eyes blazed with holy fire. His feet seemed to glow like bronze in a furnace. His voice was like the sound of rushing waters, and His words seemed to cut John’s soul like a sharp double-edged sword. His face shone so brightly that John had to turn away.
John fell to his face before the glory of his risen Master. He felt filthy in the presence of such purity. Certain he was a dead man, John clung to the ground, awaiting his fate.
But then he felt Jesus’ gentle hand on his arm, lifting him up. Instantly his fears vanished, and peace filled his heart as Jesus began to speak.
“My friend, don’t be afraid. I have so much I need to tell you. I want you to write down what I show you and send it to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
John nodded. He was familiar with the cities Jesus mentioned. He smiled as he thought of how thrilled the believers in each town would be to receive their own personal message from Jesus.
“First of all, to the church in Ephesus, write . . .”
Picking up his parchment, John began to carefully record Jesus’ messages to the seven churches. He was amazed by His Savior’s insight into the problems and triumphs each congregation was experiencing.
However, as he wrote, John began to realize that these were more than simple letters to the churches of his day. Jesus was giving guidance to future believers who would face similar challenges. Each church represented God’s people at a different stage in history. John’s heart thrilled at the thought that these words he was recording would help future generations stay true to God.
In the letter to the last group, the Laodiceans, Jesus compared them to lukewarm water and warned that He would “spew” them out of His mouth if they didn’t change their attitude.
The Laodicean Christians lived in a city famous for its wealth and the self-sufficient attitude of its citizens. Unfortunately, the Christians had come to share this attitude. Satisfied with their prosperous lifestyle and fashionable religion, they felt no need for a deeper relationship with God.
John trembled as he wrote this letter, because he knew that it must be a message to the church at the very end of time. Apparently many Christians in earth’s final days would make the same mistake as the Laodiceans. They would become complacent and lazy, content with their wealth, with no time for God.
John remembered something Jesus had once told His disciples about people’s attitudes in the last days: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”1
Yet Jesus wouldn’t give up easily on either the Laodiceans or the last-day Christians. He pleaded with them to open the door to Him so He could cover their spiritual nakedness with the robe of His righteousness and heal their spiritual blindness with the eye salve of the Holy Spirit.
His final words to them were filled with love and pleading. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”2
John’s hand shook with fatigue as he finished recording Jesus’ messages to the seven churches. Setting down his quill, he felt Jesus’ hand again rest gently on his shoulder.
“Thank you, John. You’ve done well. We will talk again soon. I still have much to show you, but now you must rest.”
As His words lingered in John’s mind, the dazzling light of Jesus’ presence faded, and John was filled with a sudden sense of loss.
“But He said we’ll talk again soon,” John reminded himself. “I can hardly wait.”
Picking up his pen and parchment, John shuffled off to his hut to sleep, exhausted but at peace.
A short time later John again stood on the edge of the cliff, looking out over the sea. It was a stormy day on Patmos. The surf pounded the ragged shoreline below, throwing white sheets of spray against the rugged cliffs. Overhead, dark-gray clouds clashed against each other, and brilliant flashes of lightning made the horizon glow.
As he stared up at the tumultuous sky, a door seemed to open in the clouds, and John found himself staring into the throne room of heaven. The voice he had heard the previous Sabbath called to him: “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”3
Immediately John found himself standing before the throne of God in heaven. A rainbow encircled the throne, and God’s brightness shining from the throne reminded John of the dazzling hues of jasper and carnelian.
Standing nearby were creatures praising God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”4
In God’s hand John saw a scroll with seven seals. A voice cried out, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”5
That scroll must contain the information about the future that Jesus promised to tell me, John thought. He looked around expectantly for someone to open the scroll, but when no one appeared, John wept in disappointment.
Then a Lamb who looked as if He had been slain stepped forward. Suddenly a chorus rang out, singing to the Lamb, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God.”6
So Someone would open the seals! It was Jesus Himself.
As the Lamb broke the seals, scenes representing different times in earth’s history passed before John’s eyes. Then there was a dramatic pause in the action.
John saw a mighty angel come down from heaven, robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above him. He stood with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on land. In his hand was a little scroll, which he held out to John.
Giving a loud shout, the angel declared, “There will be no more delay!”7
A voice from heaven commanded John, “‘Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel.’ . . . ‘Take it and eat it.'”8
John took the scroll and “ate” it. At first it tasted sweet like honey, but when he swallowed it, his stomach turned sour.
Then the voice spoke again. “You must prophesy again about many people, nations, languages and kings.”9
Soon John found his senses returning to Patmos. Shaking with emotion, he returned to his abode, only to lie awake for hours trying to grasp the meaning of the vision.
God continued to reveal to John, through dreams and visions, the mysteries of the future and His loving care for His people.
In one vision John saw a beautiful pregnant woman. When she gave birth, a powerful dragon tried to destroy the baby.
Another vision featured a terrible beast that came out of a sea. Much of humanity worshiped the beast because the same dragon had given it power. The beast slandered God and tried to destroy His true followers.
After this beast came a lamblike beast that rose from the earth and made people worship the first beast. If they refused, the beast had them killed. The second beast put a coded mark of loyalty on the hand or forehead of those who worshiped the first beast. The code number was 666.
In stark contrast to the beast’s followers, John saw a group of people called the 144,000 standing with the Lamb. They had Jesus’ and the Father’s names written on their foreheads. They were described as those who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.”10
John also saw three angels flying in midair. The first called for people to “fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”11
The second angel cried out, “Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”12 And the third angel warned, “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.”13
Many of John’s visions foretold terrible judgments that would fall on the wicked at the end of time, including seven final plagues that would destroy large numbers of people–and make many who survived wish they were dead. But interspersed with these terrible scenes were other scenes that displayed God’s love and mercy for His faithful followers.
At last John saw Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven to rescue His people and take them home to the beautiful place He had prepared for them, where they would walk and talk with God for a thousand years.
After that John saw the New Jerusalem descend to earth. The wicked were resurrected for their final judgment and then, along with Satan and his angels, were finally destroyed. The earth was cleansed with fire. God then restored the earth to its original perfect state, never again to be spoiled by sin.
The apostle rejoiced as he watched Jesus’ followers enjoying the earth made new, walking the streets of gold and singing praises to their heavenly Father.
As this final vision ended and the splendor of heaven faded, John found himself once more on the windswept island of Patmos. He struggled to comprehend the vast panorama of human history that he had seen.
But then a ray of light split the clouds and he heard the beautiful voice of Jesus one last time.
“John, I sent my angel to give you these messages for the churches.
I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star. And yes, John, I am coming soon.”
Overcome with awe and thankfulness, John bowed his head and whispered, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”14
1 Matthew 24:37-39. 2 Revelation 3:20. 3 Revelation 4:1. 4 Verse 8. 5 Revelation 5:2. 6 Verse 9. 7 Revelation 10:6. 8 Verses 8, 9. 9 Verse 11. 10 Revelation 14:4, 5. 11 Verse 7. 12 Verse 8. 13 Verses 9, 10. 14 Revelation 22:20.
Illustrated by Terrill Thomas